The article traces the history of Taurasi and the key role played by the Mastroberardino Family
Roots and traditions
by Daniele Cernilli 26-11-2014
The first, labeled bottle of Taurasi to be exported to France was in 1878. Irpinia, the interior area of the Campania region which today corresponds to the province of Avellino, had become part of the Kingdom of Italy less than 20 years earlier as did the rest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies thanks to the efforts of Garibaldi and his ‘Mille’. Back then, it took a whole day by horse and carriage to reach Atripalda, the most important winemaking center, from the small villages of Montemarano and Castelfranci. It took even longer if you were transporting a load of harvested grapes. The roads were no more than mule trails and the motor vehicle had not yet been invented.
The pioneer in producing Taurasi was Angelo Mastroberardino (1848-1914) who for years had been making it for local consumption with only a little ever making it as far as Naples. What this means is that Taurasi, a great red wine made from Aglianico grapes, existed long before Brunello di Montalcino and was a contemporary of Barolo. Some 30 years earlier, in 1855, Napoleon III, for the Paris World’s Fair, had drawn up the famous ‘Classification des Grand Crus’ for the great Bordeaux wines and, in particular, those of Haut-Médoc. Those wines were produced in areas that were level or hilly and not far from the sea or other sufficiently efficient transportation venues. Producing wine in the mountains of Irpinia was much different with the last grapes picked just before Christmas and the brought down to the wineries together with those picked a month earlier, in order to make just one trip. ‘’What arrived was a mix of fresh grapes and those that had raisinated on the vine which had partially become must during transport,’’ recalled Piero Mastroberardino, the fourth generation of family winemakers. ‘’The wines of the time and those up until the 1950s, when transportation problems were finally resolved, were more alcoholic and volatile and were thus more similar to Amarone,’’ he added.
Angelo was succeeded by his son Michele Mastroberardino (1886-1945) who at the start of the 20th century began to export his wines to Latin America, in particular Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina where there were large communities of Italian immigrants who were beginning to enjoy economic success. ‘’My grandfather used to tell me stories, sometimes amazing ones, about his long trips to South America by ship which took more than a month. He thought that some of rich passengers and the games they organized on deck were quite eccentric,’’ Piero said. ‘’He was a very upright person, of both peasant and middle-class stock, so you can just imagine how he felt hobnobbing with the rich nobility of the Belle Époque’’. Michele lived through some truly difficult times: the First Word War and then the phylloxera plague in Irpinia between 1920 and 1930 which destroyed all the vineyards. Then came the 1929 Great Depression which hit Italy in the early 1930s. Antonio Mastroberardino, Piero’s father, was born in 1928 and he was the true founder of the winery in a modern sense. He was only 17 when he took over the family business after his father died in 1945. And he remained at helm until 2005, revamping the whole line of production starting in 1952, replanting the vines destroyed by the phylloxera plague and promoting his family’s wines worldwide, wines that today represent the roots and tradition of Campania winemaking and perhaps even that of South America. Antonio passed away a few months ago, leaving behind him an immense void. He was not just a good Irpinia winemaker but also one of the fathers of modern winemaking in Italy. A scholar and university professor, Piero is now alone at the head of the estate but he knows what he is doing and has a clear idea of where he wants to go. He is well-aware of the meanings of tradition and roots and for this reason his best wines are called Radici (Roots), a name that is almost a commentary that goes beyond its official classification.